Unlike the festive resolution-setters, yogis set intentions (sankalpas) year-round, at the beginning each practice. According to tradition, the student is to work with the same intention consistently until it manifests. For me that means that my intention is present with me at the beginning of each and every day. And I almost never have a glass of champagne in my hand while setting it. Unless you count kombucha, which I sort of do.
This week, as I prepare to present the idea of sankalpa to my students in class, I feel the familiar pull to be a yogic cheerleader. It's par for the course this time of year, right? I have tales to tell of how yoga helped me climb the mountain, lose the weight, come back from the brink, get my life back on track... you know. I know how to tell those stories, and I do tell them, sometimes. But if I'm being honest about how I'm living my yoga practice at the dawn of 2014, I am compelled to tell a different story.
This year I move into the new year working on an intention that is one of those big, life-sized doozies. You know what I mean, right? We all have those great, closely held hopes that, if realized, would change our lives completely, unimaginably. Many might say it is improbable. If it is to take place, I will have to go into the darkest places and face my greatest fears. I will need unwavering faith and steadiness and maybe a little magic. And, still, it might not happen. That's the reality. The greatest hope I hold might not happen even despite giving everything I have.
It's uncomfortable times like this where I find my yoga practice is most essential. Each morning, as I sit down on the cushion, I practice ishvara pranidhana. This is a yogic principle that asks us to surrender to something bigger than ourselves. Yoga asks us to set a goal, work hard at it, and then let go of the specific way that it's all going to turn out. We all have a dharma or a purpose for being on the earth. In order to fulfill this purpose, we have to be trained. This training is sometimes easy and sometimes hard and sometimes mundane and sometimes heartbreaking. But whatever happens, it is part of the path; it is part of our training as yogis. Hence, my new mantra throughout my practice and my day, "This is part of the process."
I truly believe that a yoga practice can help us reckon with this seemingly mind-exploding idea of both trying and letting go at the same time. Here are some practices that I do to help create a calm surrender to what arises, even if it arises in the way of my Big Goal.
Six (Practical) Ways to Practice Ishvara Pranidhana
1. Mantra. I use a form of meditation daily that is called japa meditation. During this meditation, you use the mala beads to repeat a mantra 108 times. You may use the mantra of your choice or a traditional one. I like the invocation to Ganesha om gam ganapataye namaha. In yogic mythology, Ganesha represents the remover of obstacles along your path.
2. Write it down. This advice comes directly from Pema Chodron. Write your intention down on special paper and place it somewhere you consider sacred. As you do so, you symbolically surrender this intention to this sacred place.
3. Reach out. My closest yoga friends and I practice for each other in time of need. We dedicate our practice to the other, making each movement a meditation of hope for the other. If you have a friend who practices yoga, ask that person to dedicate their practice to this intention you're setting. Don't have a friend that practices yoga? Yes you do. You have me. Ask me. You can say your intention or keep it private, but either way you're soliciting the support of another on the path.
4. Be nice to yourself. Please be nice to yourself. It is really, really hard to be happy when someone is constantly berating you. If you don't meet your goals, it is not because you are a bad person. In fact, yoga philosophy completely rejects this idea. At your true core you are wisdom. I didn't make that up. They figured it out a couple thousand years ago. This means you are enough, just as you are. You are enough if you complete your resolution and you are enough if you do not. Treat yourself accordingly.
5. Trust that all is unfolding, just as it should. I have to credit one of my favorite teachers, Daren Friesen, for that one. He often includes this sentiment in his grounding meditation and I still hear these words in his steady voice. Maybe all is going as planned. Maybe everything feels out of control. Maybe you're not meant to get that job. Maybe that guy isn't the right one. Maybe this year's "disaster" is a blessing in disguise, nudging you to something even greater. According to yoga, you are being trained for bigger things and everything is running right on schedule. Trust.
6. Yoga nidra. At least once per week, I practice yoga nidra, a guided form of relaxation. This practice allows the seed of intention to be planted deeply into the fertile ground of the deepest parts of the mind. This helps to facilitate cooperation with the subconscious realms of the mind, which can sometimes undermine the best intentions. I teach this practice as part of my Sunday gentle flow class quite often. Mia Park teaches this practice at the West Bucktown location. Come.
Come to class and practice this year for more. The more effort you put in, the more you will get out of the practice. (Look! There's my yoga cheerleader quote after all!)